The fleeting warmth of sunshine

I was enjoying a book by the late Frank Mele when the sun glared through my window and into my eyes. I decided to take a break, the sun being fleeting this time of year, and make myself a sandwich. Looking out the front door the sun on the porch looked so inviting that I had to walk out. The south end of the porch was bathed in warmth and brilliance, and I decided to lunch right there.

Forty-four degrees is a verifiable heat wave in the course of this winter, and I enjoyed the moment to the fullest. Leaning back, I sipped a small gift of the brewer’s art emblazoned Cold Snap, bringing thoughts of all the spring and summer evenings I have enjoyed sitting on that porch, the grill crackling and an icy beverage close at hand.

I have passed the week craving the fishing that I cannot have, though I’ve shared a bit of that passion electronically. The Catskill Fly Tyers Guild recently assembled an archive of angling books, those depicting the history, rivers, trout, fishers and fly tiers of the region. Upon distributing it to the members, the gentlemen who complied the list welcomed suggestions for other titles, and I have a few in my library deemed worthy of inclusion.

One of the committee members who compiled the archive is Edward Ostapczuk, a gentleman angler and sage of the Esopus most qualified to converse on Catskill fly fishing and its history, as he has been a part of it for five decades with rod and line, and pen. I knew a little of Ed from his regular column in the Guild’s Gazette, and from his fine book “Ramblings Of A Charmed Circle Flyfisher” published in 2012. We had corresponded briefly via a post on the Classic Flyrod Forum last winter, and I had hoped to meet him at Guild meetings come spring. All were of course cancelled due to the pandemic.

Messages between the angling archive committee members and myself gave birth to a number of emails from Ed. I heartily replied, and we have shared a few anecdotes, photos and flies these past few days. It has been as close to sitting down and talking fishing as I have gotten during this quarantine year, and a source of much enjoyment.

Ed has a special place in his fly box for the Dorato Hare’s Ear, a dry fly I had heard of, but never fished or researched. Memory seemed to be telling me I had seen a fly by that name in some pattern book, with white wings and a buggy Hare’s Ear fur body. Ostapczuk provided the history, as well as the recipe, and I learned that the DHE is a Catskill pattern in the truest sense, conceived and tied for these rivers by the late Bill Dorato.

I too have confidence in buggy looking flies, particularly for mountain stream fishing. Twenty years ago I had tied my Fox Squirrel Special with a buggy fox squirrel fur body, Cree hackle, and bright yellow calf hair wings. It was a great fish catcher and easy to spot with it’s yellow wings amid the frothy white water that brook trout are drawn to.

Broad Run: brook trout water, South Central Pennsylvania style.

I have tied the fly Catskill style, with a divided wood duck wing, and commercially packaged fox squirrel dubbing, but the spiky appearance of the Dorato Hare’s Ear inspired me to blend up some appropriate dubbing and tie some buggy Fox Squirrels.

The blend is heavy on the guard hairs from a fox squirrel skin, both the heavily barred fur from the back, and the reddish ginger belly fur. Use less of the soft underfur, just enough for a binder, and a small amount of light brown Antron dubbing to lend some light reflections. A coffee bean grinder is a perfect dubbing blender, though you can do it by hand.

Squirrel has been a mainstay for my nymph blends for nearly thirty years, due to its wealth of short heavily barred guard hairs. The spiky appearance makes a very lifelike fly, and the natural mottling provided by those guard hairs looks like a lot of trout stream insects. Natural squirrel fur is great, and the availability of dyed colors make it even more versatile.

My Catskill Style Fox Squirrel is tied with the natural fox squirrel and Antron blend, natural Cree hackle, and wood duck flank. I believe that Cree is the most beautiful rooster hackle in existence, and I use traditional Cree (above) and some beautiful Collins Dun Crees for many of my Catskill dry flies. The resulting flies are lovely and I believe that the barred hackle imitates movement, and thus, life!
The Fox Squirrel, Buggy Version as inspired by the Dorato Hare’s Ear.

Ed’s Gazette article tells me that Bill Dorato tied and fished his pattern as a caddis imitation, but it has proven to be a great all around dry fly whether caddis or mayflies are about. I can attest to the effectiveness of the Fox Squirrel and Fox Squirrel Special for the same reasons that Dorato’s fly has become a go to pattern for experienced Catskill anglers like Ed Ostapczuk. The combination of a spiky, mottled body and barred hackle combine to give a great impression of life!

I’ll be tying more of these in sizes 12 and 14 for the early spring hatches. Ed loves his Doratos in size 18, so I’ll tie a few smaller ones too. That way I can cover Hendricksons, Quill Gordons and Blue Quills with a single pattern.

One thought on “The fleeting warmth of sunshine

  1. Good morning Mark , this post is awesome, the DHE has been a go to pattern for me for many years now. I tie it with both full hackle and hackle clipped on the bottom.
    My tying this year has been Athertons series of dries. The #5 may become a favorite all around fly. Keep tying and posting and stay well. Mike


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